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Transcript of doorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: 13 February 2007: Dental care.

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Nicola Roxon MP Shadow Minister for Health

Transcript of doorstop interview, Parliament House, Canberra

13 February 2007



Subject: Dental care

NICOLA ROXON: Thank you for coming today. I want to comment on dental care and particularly that the Health Services Union has launched their dental campaign today.

I think the evidence is now mounting that the community is determined for John Howard to get this message - he needs to actually help fix the dental crisis that is occurring around the country.

We know that there are hundreds of thousands of people on public dental waiting lists. We now know there are 50,000 - in the last year that it’s been measured - hospital admissions that were preventable because of dental conditions.

We know, more so than in any health area, that if we invest in prevention we can actually save ourselves a lot of money and a lot of trauma.

Unfortunately John Howard still says this is entirely the States’ responsibility.

He’s ignoring the community.

The Health Services Union’s research shows that 73% of the community thinks that John Howard should play some role in fixing this problem.

He’s ignoring his own back bench in the Blame Game Committee who called on the Commonwealth to be involved again in dental care, and Labor has made clear that we think this is an important part of our campaign for this year’s election.

We don’t believe that working families should have to go without the dental care that they need, we don’t believe that kids should have to end up in hospitals because they can’t get preventative care, and we don’t believe that people should be waiting years and years, and in some instances of the people I

met with this morning, ten years, to get dental care.

We’re a first world country, we shouldn’t have people who are dealing with third world teeth issues.

JOURNALIST: Will Labor consider extending Medicare to cover some dental services?

NICOLA ROXON: Well certainly that’s an issue that the Health Services Union would like to pursue. It’s only one way of fixing this problem. [Making sure that] working families can get the dental care that they need is our key priority.

We think prevention in particular for children is a key issue, and we think there are a number of ways we can work with States and Territories to help ease their waiting list pressures. So, while the Health Services Union can campaign on that issue, we are looking at a range of options that might be able to deliver.

JOURNALIST: So you rule out their Medicare proposal do you?

NICOLA ROXON: It’s not one of the priorities we’re looking at, but it’s certainly one that they will be campaigning on, as is their right - but there are many ways that we can fix this problem. I think the argument about whether dental care should be included in Medicare is really one from several decades ago, but we do believe that there are options where we can make sure that the health dollars go further in this area, that it’s vital to put money in prevention.

We’re interested in looking at what sort of oral health care campaign could be run. There’s a long time since the Commonwealth has actually invested in reminding people about dental care.

We think that these are all important options which we will be considering.

But Kevin Rudd has made it a priority. He’s also made clear that means-testing some sort of preventative assistance to working families is our priority, and that’s what we’ll be doing our work around.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]…700, 800 million dollars to clear the waiting list problem. Would Labor put up that money?

NICOLA ROXON: We do think it’s going to be a significant amount of money. We understand however that this is a priority, that dental care is part of healthcare. Unlike John Howard we don’t think that you can take your mouth

out of your body and say that dental care is separate to the rest of your health. We think the Commonwealth needs to be involved in fixing this problem, and we will be releasing our detailed policies in due course.

JOURNALIST: What’s a reasonable time for somebody to wait for treatment of a chronic dental condition?

NICOLA ROXON: It’s not acceptable for people to be waiting years for dental care. The three people who were here today with the Health Services Union all had been waiting for many years, and the problem we see in dental is that simple problems that can be fixed easily turn into major ones where people end up in hospital unnecessarily because they do not get their care in an orderly and timely fashion.

JOURNALIST: Six months, twelve months, is that a…?

NICOLA ROXON: Everybody in the community knows that if you have a problem or a sore tooth, actually waiting days is difficult, let alone years, but you have to be realistic about how we can clear this current backlog, and how we can make sure people then get assistance in a timely way.

I am particularly committed to us looking at prevention measures. We know that if children and adults have regular check-ups that we actually prevent a lot of these problems becoming more complicated in the future and I believe there’s an important role for the Commonwealth to play in the prevention area.

JOURNALIST: Just to clarify - are you saying that you’re not really hot on the Medicare proposal that they’ve put up, Labor instead is looking at means-testing free dental care for working families?

NICOLA ROXON: We certainly are, we’ve already been on the record to say that that is our priority. We believe that working families should not have to say we can’t give children the dental care they need because they can’t afford it. We know that dental costs are increasing faster than other health costs, and we think that really the Commonwealth is in the position with the States to have some control on that. We need to make sure that people can get the dental care they need when they need it to prevent problems in the future.

JOURNALIST: Would you use private dentists…[inaudible]?

NICOLA ROXON: There are a number of options and obviously workforce is a key issue - in fact we have a shortage of dentists whether they’re private or in the

public system, so we do know that dental workforce has to be dealt with as part of this package, and we will be announcing the detail of our policy in due course.

JOURNALIST: What’s wrong with putting [dental care] as part of Medicare? What are the costs involved, and why isn’t Labor considering that?

NICOLA ROXON: As I say, it’s an issue that people are campaigning on, and obviously that’s their right to do that. Labor is particularly focused on what we can do for working families who are not getting the dental care they need.

JOURNALIST: But why not put it in Medicare?

NICOLA ROXON: We don’t believe that that’s necessarily the way that we fix this problem. We know that the States are involved already and we want to look at ways that we can leverage getting the most we can out of every health dollar and I will announce our policies in due course when we’re ready to do that.

JOURNALIST: You keep saying that you’re committed to prevention, but surely you would acknowledge that prevention does nothing for the bloke who’s been on the list for ten years, so does Labor have any plans when it comes to Government to clear the waiting lists?

NICOLA ROXON: Obviously the waiting lists for hundreds of thousands of people who are on the waiting lists are the biggest problem that the community faces at the moment. There are I believe also many thousands of people who are not getting the dental care they need and are not yet even on those waiting lists.

We need to, as the Commonwealth, see how we could best spend our money and make a contribution to the overall public health of the community. Obviously we believe that prevention is a priority, but we do think that it is vital for us to look at ways we can help the States clear their waiting lists.

JOURNALIST: Your policy doesn’t seem to be of any aid to the three people at that press conference today, none of whom were working families with children - two of them were elderly gentlemen, and the other a man with no kids. What are you going to do for them?

NICOLA ROXON: I don’t think that that’s right… The people on the waiting lists are the very people you saw here today, who do not fall into the target categories or the highest priority or the most urgent, but whose lives are being dramatically affected by the fact that they can’t actually get the dental care that they need. We know that if the Commonwealth played a role in dental care, we know that if we targeted, whether it’s working families or others,

that that would actually make space for the people who were here today telling their stories to get the care that they need.

I think it’s tragic that you have someone, for example, who loves ballroom dancing, who hasn’t been in many many months because he’s too embarrassed to go to dancing because of his teeth. Now this is very basic quality of life that in a first world country we should be able to deal with, and Labor’s committed to doing it, but John Howard is still not hearing that message.

For more information please contact Sean Kelly 02 6277 2039 or 0417 108 362